Monthly Archives: October 2010

Pixar’s Renderman prototype is the best realization of the cloud computing vision yet


To be honest, Microsoft “cloud” demos usually put me to sleep, but not this one. At the PDC2010 keynote yesterday, Pixar Animation Studio’s Chris Ford demoed a cloud-hosted prototype of their Academy Award-winning Renderman solution that in my opinion makes the best case for cloud computing I’ve seen yet.

The Windows Azure-powered prototype website, albeit extremely polished, is an example of how the company could easily transform its industry-leading product limited in reach by its hunger for resources into a service that would allow anyone from small studios to even indie filmmakers could then take advantage of the powers of Renderman, even if they don’t have the resources to establish and support a rendering farm.


Although the idea of “outsourcing” rendering is neither exciting or new, where the demo really hit home Microsoft’s vision for cloud computing was a simple slider (shown above) where you could balance (in realtime) how much you were willing to pay against how long the rendering job would take.

Those familiar with Microsoft vision videos might remember “Overnight Success” (jump to 1m:30s) where a similar UI allowed for the immediate provisioning of processing power to accommodate extra load.

Both of these examples, although subtle in implementation, emphasizes one important message about cloud computing, that is, it’s not just about offloading the management of servers to a third party or even the ability to take advantage of a lot of potential processing power, but the flexibility to scale (both up and down) at a rate that’s not only feasible with traditional (high performance) computing but not practical.

You can find more photos of the Pixar Renderman cloud prototype here.

Microsoft PDC10 attendees get free Windows Phone 7


In an Oprah-like moment at the Microsoft PDC10 conference keynote today, Steve Ballmer announced to a hall full of eager developers that every attendee would get a free Windows Phone 7 device at the event. As WP7 is yet to launch in the United States, a loud cheer followed.

The device most people received is a retail-model LG Optimus 7. A smaller subset of attendees (non-paying attendees) got a Samsung Taylor preproduction developer device instead.

With an estimated 1,000 attendees on-site (Microsoft would not confirm), it’s quite possible more Windows Phone 7s changed hands today than the number of devices available on launch day in Australia.



Slideshow: Microsoft PDC 2010 keynote

Microsoft’s annual Professional Developers Conference 2010 kicked off today within the Redmond fortress walls for the first time ever. Steve Ballmer and co. presented the keynote inside the Microsoft Conference Center otherwise known as Building 33 speaking about but not limited to Internet Explorer 9, Windows Phone 7 and Windows Azure.

For those who missed the event live in person or on the web, you can find the video recording here or view my photo slideshow below.

Windows Phone 7: hardware (still) matters

Over the course of the past seven days I’ve had the pleasure of using two different Windows Phone 7 launch devices in Australia. The first being an LG Optimus 7Q and now a Samsung Omnia 7.

Side by side in the photos above, the phones might appear equally impressive on the surface. They are both running Windows Phone 7 after all. Having said that, my personal experience shows there is a world of difference using them.

Since the early days of WP7 speculation, it became well established that all Windows Phone 7 hardware will have minimum specifications set by Microsoft. It was further revealed, Microsoft will even provide guidelines on physical form factors via a number of “chassis” designs.

The news at the time was unanimously supported by the enthusiast community as a sign that Microsoft will be raising the bar for “Windows Phone” both as a brand and as a product.

Fortunately, this turned out to be true and it appears all Windows Phone 7 devices run Windows Phone 7 extremely well. But, that’s not to be said all Windows Phone 7 devices are great phones of the same.

Take the LG Optimus 7Q first, it’s not a well designed phone, period.

Even if you looked past its bulky weight and size for the physical slide-out keyboard, the position and size of the hardware buttons are truly baffling. The most obvious being the Start button which doesn’t align with the back or search button and forces your thumb to stretch to its limits just to reach it.

Other buttons around the difficult-to-grip rounded case barely extrude in millimeters, making what should be obvious tactile interactions both difficult to locate and press. Usability aside, even the size and brightness of the screen is more inline with last-generation’s Windows Mobile 6.5 hardware than WP7.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Samsung Omnia 7 is not just an impressive Windows Phone 7 device, it’s an impressive mobile phone.

It’s light, thin yet sturdy thanks to a brushed metal frame that encompasses the entire device except the front where the flush super AMOLED screen is almost like a single piece of flawless black marble that is equally gorgeous on or off. Of course, the hardware buttons are sizable in all three dimensions with a satisfying responsive feel.

The moral of the story is, as consistent Windows Phone 7 devices may appear, you should still judge each phone on its own merit. In this case, the two phones couldn’t be more miles apart. Whilst this process is a lot easier compared to Android phones where you would also have to take into account the software, it’s an important factor that will have an influence on the whole Windows Phone 7 experience.

For now, I’m sold on the Samsung Omnia 7.

Isaiah “Old Spice Guy” Mustafa talks Windows Phone 7 and tech on FranklySpeaking

Between seducing a female show host live on national radio and attending a promotional tour at Telstra’s Windows Phone 7 launch event, the man, the legend, Isaiah Mustafa even took time out during his Australia visit to record a podcast.

Hosted by Microsoft Australia employees Michael Kordahi and Andrew Coates, Isaiah chatted about getting a Windows Phone 7, why he likes it, technology, games, viral videos, sports, internet fame and TV shows during the packed 11-minute segment.

Although no body wash is involved, it’s definitely still worth a look and a listen.

Update: The video has since been taken down due to low quality. The podcast’s audio is available here.

Workaround to enable local business listings and voice search on Windows Phone 7 in Australia

Early adopters of Windows Phone 7 users in Australia might have noticed a lack of local results in both the Bing search application and Maps application (also powered by Bing). If you haven’t, you’ll find a search for “McDonalds” in Melbourne will take you to McDonalds of South Carolina, USA. Not quite within walking distance.

Fortunately, Rafael Rivera and I have found a workaround. Although it’s going to sound stupid, rest assured, it means you won’t be completely out of luck until Microsoft fixes this.

Enable “Local” results in Bing search and Maps:

  1. Go to the application list
  2. Open “Settings
  3. Open “region & language
  4. Scroll to bottom and change “Browser & search language” to “English (United States)

Furthermore, you can opt to sell out more of your Australian pride for the extra voice searching functionality (ex. “Find Pizza in Melbourne”) which too has been disabled.

Enable voice searching:

  1. Scroll to top and change “Display language” to “English (United States)
  2. Change the “Regional format” to “English (Australia)
  3. Touch the “Tap here to accept changes and restart your phone.” link

Note: This setting is OEM-dependent and may be limited or disabled in which case will have no effect. HTC devices seems to have this locked. LG and Samsung do not.

The two downside to this workaround is that all distances will be provided in miles instead of kilometres and “News” results will source US publishers than Australian ones. Pain worth suffering in my opinion.

Although it’s hard to fully comprehend the irony of this situation, I’m guessing the reason behind this is the fact that Bing’s mobile web service does not return “local” results if the locale is set to Australian. Having said that they obviously don’t lack the database to provide such a service since it’s filled with local listings provided by Yellow Pages. Can someone please flick the switch.